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Fiscal Cliff Injury Report: Higher Ed

“Who will starve, and who will get some breadcrumbs?”

That’s the question Southeastern Louisiana University professor Dayne Sherman — and many others — are asking, as Louisiana colleges and universities have been told to expect up to $400-million in cuts for the next fiscal year. That amounts to 40 percent of their current state funding.

“I don’t see how they can function. I don’t see how they can stay accredited,” Sherman says. “And I don’t see how they can — in any way, shape or form — continue their missions.”

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley has said he won’t back a budget that cuts higher education this much. But Steve Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), says colleges and universities need to streamline.

“For every dollar we give to higher ed right now, almost two-thirds of that goes back to pensions, retirement, There’s a lot of overhead in there,” Waguespack states. “We need to enable higher ed to go out and be more efficient.”

One of those efficiencies will undoubtedly be consolidating the various college systems’ boards of supervisors into just one board — the Board of Regents. It’s something that’s been proposed by this governor and lawmakers for several years now, yet has persistently failed to pass. The current budget crisis could give the idea more traction this time around.

Another efficiency being discussed?

“They’re talking about closing 15 campuses,” Sherman says, among them three of the University of Louisiana System’s nine campuses. LSU-Eunice, Southern-New Orleans, Grambling, Nicholls and Northwestern State are among the universities being considered for the chopping block, Sherman tells us.

Yet this is an election year, and state legislators will find that voting for any campus closure is fraught with political peril.

Senator Robert Adley of Benton doesn’t expect it to come to that.

“Yes, it will be a battle. But we’ll find a lot of people willing to try and find ways to salvage this mess,” Adley states confidently.

Tomorrow, we’ll look into options for bridging the chasm of Louisiana’s fiscal cliff.